From running Josephmark, an internationally recognised design business, to tilling the soil at The Falls Farm, an award-winning south-east Queensland specialist grower that supplies some of Brisbane’s best restaurants – including Essa, Agnes and Gerard’s Bistro – to now buying a country pub. Such has been the 18-year twin career path of Ben Johnston and Jessica Huddart.
The husband-and-wife team last month bought the beautiful 112-year-old Mapleton Tavern, renamed it the Mapleton Public House and hired celebrated former Long Apron chef Cameron Matthews to create a paddock-to-plate destination restaurant and pub.
“Josephmark is 18 years old now, and the farm is nine years old, so I guess we do things in nine-year cycles,” Huddart says, laughing. “In JM we aim to build beautiful businesses – it’s become a design-ventures practice. So we’re always thinking about opportunities in-market, but they’re usually technically driven ideas.
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“With the farm, it’s been such a different realm. We’ve become passionate about regenerative farming and regenerative business in general. We’d been thinking a lot about how we extend the farm’s impact in terms of how food is grown and how we value it as a society. We’d thought about building our own restaurant and cooking school on the farm, but that didn’t happen for one reason or another.”
Originally it was a friend of Huddart and Johnston who was looking at purchasing the Mapleton Tavern. When they decided not to pursue the opportunity, Huddart and Johnston began to look at it seriously themselves.
“We would like to see our community becoming more food focused than it was before,” Huddart says. “But also, I really saw it as a great platform to talk about regenerative farming, nutrient-dense foods and seasonal eating.”
Besides acting as something of a store window for The Falls Farm, Mapleton Public House also taps into south-east Queensland’s growing appetite for elevated, produce-driven regional restaurants, following the recent openings of the highly rated Paddock Restaurant at Hazelwood Estate outside of Beechmont, and Blume in Boonah.
“That definitely was part of the business model,” Huddart says. “It became part of the rationale for doing it.”
The pub has been running business-as-usual since the purchase, but over a period of six to 12 months it will slowly transform into a sophisticated food and drinks venue showcasing produce from The Falls Farm, with a private dining space for meetings, events and functions, and a bottle shop that will sell independent Australian wine, beer and spirits.
Matthews was one of The Falls Farm’s early customers when he ran the kitchen at The Long Apron, just down the road in Montville. He has in place an initial menu that includes a free-range chicken schnitzel served with creamed potatoes; seasonal Falls Farm vegetables and chicken gravy; honey-miso Falls Farm carrots; and an Angus ground-beef burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato and secret sauce. But Huddart says the menu will begin to evolve as early as next week to include more plant-based options.
In the longer term, the intention is to take paddock-to-plate dining to the hilt, with Matthews cooking what’s come out of the ground at the farm that day. Otherwise, the focus will be on using vegetables root-to-tip, using less animal protein, and minimising waste.
In the meantime, Huddart has taken over the day-to-day running of the pub. It’s another change of pace for her and Johnston. The Brisbane and Los Angeles-based Josephmark continues to produce work for clients that over the years have included AMC, Google, Clipchamp and Myspace. In 2013 the duo took a right-hand turn and purchased an overgrown block of land near Mapleton to create The Falls Farm, going on to sell seasonal produce at the farmgate and farmers markets, and to supply Brisband and Sunshine Coast restaurants with specialised vegetables, fruit and edible flowers.
“I would say even a year ago, I did not expect to become a publican,” Huddart says. “But the best things in my life have come when we’ve said ‘Yes’ and they’ve felt like the right thing to do. You can only have so many plans. And this is really aligned in terms of what we’ve been doing at JM in designing experiences, even though they’ve been digital experiences, and then pulling in what we’ve become very passionate about in terms of regenerative agriculture … it brings everything together.”
Not that the venue will lose its simple country boozer appeal, Huddart says.
“I don't want to impose what I want onto everybody else here. It’s more about listening to what local people here like, and then trying to find a balance. For sure there have been some locals that haven’t been happy with the changes, and we’ve really only changed the menu, so far. But then there’s been a lot of other people who weren’t going to the pub before. They’ve lived here for many years but didn’t feel there was something here for them before. And now they’re coming regularly.”
Mapleton Public House
2 Flaxton Drive, Mapleton
(07) 5445 7499
Mon to Thu 10am–8.30pm
Fri & Sat 10am–10pm